St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Maple Syruping Time?

   Margo and I are spending the week in Natchez, Mississippi, an old graceful (and decaying) town on the Mississippi.  The town is beautiful with azaleas of all colors blooming abundantly, daffodils, tulip trees and other spring trees.  
   The weather is mild (70s) with overnights in the 50s.  We expected to stay until about the beginning of March, but with Scott telling us the warm weather has already hit NW Wisconsin, we now think we may head back next Monday. 
   Most years, maple syruping season is mid-March to late April, but over my lifetime, we have seen a swing towards earlier and earlier seasons.  Rather than getting most of the sap in April, we now see much in March, and in 2012, probably it ran in February. 
   Natches has much to look at; many beautiful old mansions, the riverfront, gambling, and the river itself.  The river, often coming out of its banks to crush development nearby, is mostly clean and calm along the banks.  Behind the levees in LA and up the hill in MS is where the development continues. 
   As in most of the towns and cities we have visited in the south (and probably true in the north too), the old down town with its historic brick buildings is emptying to the golden arches, dollar stores and gas station development along the edges.  Sad to see empty shells.  This is not really tourist season here, so it may get better other times of the year. 
  One barge being pushed up river, but otherwise almost no traffic along this stretch.
   Across the river from Natches is Vidalia, Louisiana.  It is a smaller town, mostly the urban sprawl around the edges of a bigger city, but a few nice buildings including the library where we are using free wi-fi today.  The Natchez state park has no wi-fi, and weak cell signals.  
  We drove 30 miles along the Natchez Trace, something you should look up on wikipedia to read about.  Natchez Trace  A 444 mile National Park that follows a very old road from Natchez to Nashville TN.  Think of the Scenic St Croix River corridor national state park but with a road rather than a river.  Quiet, lovely, peaceful, and wandering though the wooded countryside with historic information along the way.  
  Photos from this area

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Saturday Tours

  (Copies of my Sunday Facebook Posts).  

69F, humid, sticky, headed to 80F today in Louisiana. The campground here filled in wall to wall campers -- big ones for the weekend. As far as we can tell, we are the only non-Louisiana, non-local folks in the campsite. 100% white folks; the music highly syncopated accordion Cajun playing in the evening around campfires; the slur of French Cajun around the fire; good old boys and girls (50s -70s) out for a weekend of socializing. 

Everything is absolutely quiet after 9:30 pm, except for the hum of air conditioning units cooling trailers that stretch the full length of the back-in parking spots. 

We spent some time with the two Cajun couples next door showing them photos from Wisconsin winter and maple syruping. One wife admitted to never having seen snow, the others recalling trips to the north or that time back 7 years ago when it got down to 22F, and a sheet of white snow covered the magnolias one morning. 

The big campers are, according to our new friends, just for weekends in the local parks. To get away from work, some from towns, and to visit, listen to good music, make a huge pot of Cajun spiced riced crawfish/oyster/catfish gumbo. 

I took the 2-hour bird/nature walk at the Arboretum Saturday morning. Just 3 folks, a couple of dedicated bird watchers who came in just for the walk and me; and a bright, dedicated young man--the park naturalist. He knew every bird, bug, plant, land or water feature as I pumped him for "what is that tree; bush; hill..."

We saw mostly the same birds we see in the north, just variations of them (i.e. the Carolian Chickadee rather than the black capped one of Wisconsin). A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly; dragonflies, a few native hummingbirds, wood ducks, cardinals, blue jays, robins, flickers, vireos, phoebes, etc. The songs identified the bird, and binoculars pinned them down. 

"Our habitat here in the 6000 acre park is most threatened by feral hogs. Domestic pigs gone wild crossed with Russian boars brought in years ago by sportsmen for hunting." The ground was rooted up quite extensively as the hogs and their multiple litters of young each year tore through the undergrowth looking for food. 

"Hunting, trapping goes a little way towards control, but they just seem to get worse each year. Now they are tearing up the rice fields and other crops and farmers are losing crops from them. Some folks have taken to fencing in their yards to keep them out--have to be a very secure fence to keep them out." 

The local newspaper says that a new bait made of warfarin (coumadin--the blood thinner) is being developed with special bait feeders the hogs have to push up a door to eat. Problem is that bears, raccoons may be able to get at the bait too, and the worry of bits of the feed spilt by greedy hogs might kill birds, squirrels etc. 

Another idea is bounty hunting/trapping. They hogs are big, mean, and rather skittish unless a sow is disturbed with her litter of 8-12 hamlets. The hogs are somewhat thin and not prime eating. "They are a problem at night driving -- run into a big one and it wrecks your car," said my fellow birder. 

The huckleberries (tall blueberry plants) are in bloom, clustered with bees. The wild trilliums (pretty leaf and almost invisible flower) are up; leaves are coming on the bald cyprus; the swamp maple has budded out, and winter mosquitoes have been rejuvenated with the influx of prey into the park. 

Took a tour off the back roads to the east of the park. Flat, flooded, rice, cotton, crawfish and other farming. The farmers level an already flat piece of land, build dikes around it and flood it for rice crop.  I asked one of the campers about rice farming.  

Rice is planted March and April. Rice is grown in about 2 inches of water -- flooded fields with water pumped in. In June, when the rice is a few inches tall, crawfish are "seeded." That means they add live mature crawfish. The crawfish live in burrows under the rice.

In late July the fields are drained and the rice harvested. In late September the fields are flooded again. The mother crawfish come out of their burrows with 200-400 tiny ant-sized crawfish attached to her tail. They detach and feed on the rice stubble and in about 90 days are market size. The mother crawfish may have several broods each season, so as long as there is food and water, they continue to grow. 

Mostly the crawfish harvest is done by June. Although crawfish/rice farmers can grow rice again that spring (called "double cropping) many wait another year and give the crawfish two seasons. 

So which crop, rice or crawfish makes the farmer the most money? I hope to find that out by asking one of them next time.  

Took a drive through the nearby town of "historic" Washington. It was a very quiet, small town, a mixture of beautiful huge live oaks, magnolias, narrow streets and wonderful azaleas in bloom, old empty stores and buildings, some selling antiques, and the other side of the tracks, -- the black poor folks in shacks, their windows lined with aluminized bubble wrap for winter warmth, roofs of rusted tin, poverty in most graphic form. 

LA is one of those states with the lowest income, lowest health, lowest education, near the bottom in nearly every statistic of well being of its folks. At the same time it is immensely energy wealthy with big oil companies, wells, refineries all over as well as huge farms that appear prosperous. 

This is one of those low tax for rich states that tries to make it up by fees and taxes on things poor folks have to do. The state legislature is meeting in emergency session trying to make up the budget shortfall of 360 million for this year, and with Republicans in control of the House -- insisting that Gov Jindall (govenor last 8 years with Republican control), none of the giveaways to oil companies, rich folks and big business in general will be rolled back. A study in how giving to the rich just takes from the poor. Misery and gluttony share the state with the gluttonous having the upper hand, supported by their own personal political party.

In the evening, I heard my neighbors talking about the "bonding" bill in the state legislature -- borrow money to meet the deficit rather than tax or cut spending. I was surprised as I had heard no talk of politics nor any bumper stickers indicating any political preference are on any of the cars, trucks or campers can be seen or heard in the park, not even "Trump" mentioned.    

"You know, whatever they do it all goes to help the rich.  We get poorer and they get richer, and that just the way God want's it, I think or they wouldn't get to run everything."   Then they switched back to Cajun and I couldn't understand anymore -- but it appeared to be about the huge pot of boiling savory gumbo jumbala etouffee, crab, crawfish oyster surprise on the campstove.   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Louisiana Daze

We pulled into Louisiana last Monday and parked at Chicot State Park, near Ville Platte (south central part of the state).  We are in Evangeline Parish (county) named after the Longfellow poem. 
     The area is a mixture of blacks, whites, and folks who call themselves Cajuns -- French is spoken in about 1/3 of the homes here.  The culture is Cajun, Creole, Black and rural white folks.           The mix is interesting, generally low income, and lots of poverty that shows in low quality housing.  
    As a farm kid, I like to see what is growing.  The crops here include soybeans, corn and hay, but also cotton, sugar cane, rice and crawfish.  About all that is active right now is crawfish harvest in the flooded rice field stubble.
   Lots of oil wells around here.  Much of he land is very flat, and here and there are pastures with beef cattle including one that specializes in Brahma cattle, more adapted to the hot summer weather. 
   The Louisiana spring is here.  A few violets are blooming, Carolina Jasmine, Azaleas, tulip trees, narcissus, camelias and a few others I don't know.  Creeping Charlie and dandelions are beginning, clover is just poking a few blooms, and some of the trees are budded or even leafing out.  
   We have been enjoying temperatures that ranged from as low as 46F this morning to 81F yesterday afternoon.  Normal would be 50s-70s and that is what we see for the coming week. 
   The park here is quiet during the week, filling with fishermen with boats and campers Friday and Saturday as the park is on a panfish and bass lake.  
   Haven't met any other folks from the north on our camping so far, they probably go more south where it is even warmer.  Almost all of the folks who camp here are those with the very big units that bring home away from home.  One tenting couple are here and another popup camper pulled in today.  
  The history of the area is that of plantations, civil war battles, and the Cajuns.  That means music, food, language and friendly unpretentious folks who love fishing and hunting, dogs, beer and good food. 
   You can buy a basic house in Ville Platte for $20,000 that is livable and ready to move in. For half that you can buy one to fix up.  Of course there are many modern houses that are normal prices and many that are expensive too.  
   The Park here is severely underfunded, as are all public services in Louisiana.  Huge tax cuts led to huge spending problems and parks, police, roads, schools, libraries and health care have all taken a back seat to making sure the rich have less role in helping out the community as a whole.  
   The park restrooms are taken care of by a camper who "hosts" the campsite.  He gets free camping ($120/week) for cleaning the bathrooms and sort of checking on things.  He does not seem to take the job seriously.  He lost his house in the recent flooding "down south" and moved here to get away from being homeless -- he does have a nice large camper unit and vehicle that are now his home.    
   Once a week, a young kid (probably 20 year old), without supervision drives a truck around and empties the garbage cans he can see are in need of emptying -- he doesn't check them all, just the running over ones.  He told me he gets $8/hour and no benefits and is on his own to do what he thinks needs to be done.  Another person is in the office to take fees and check visitors.  We think there is someone in charge too, but no one seems to ever come out to the park areas to check on anything.  The main office is open 7 days a week for 12 hours a day, so probably need 3-4 folks to cover it.  It appears some may be part time -fill ins on the weekend, as the person who set us up when we first arrived had no clue about any of the campsites. 
    Campers seem to be pretty good at cleaning up their sites, and the park, unlike the roads leading to it, is clean from litter.  The road in are absolutely terrible with litter.  
    The weather here is nice; it is quiet, the bathrooms on the North loop are decent, and so we are happy staying here for the weather break from the north.  
    Our plan is to return about the beginning of March, and maybe stay here in this park until then.  I have a lot of computer work (books) I am working on and so I setup in the shade outside and work; then take a walk and photos, work and walk. 
   Margo is handling the sort of roughing it camping better than I thought.  She does some walking, some computer surfing, some taking it easy, and so on, and her back does not seem to be any worse than when we are at home.  We usually take a drive into the countryside or a small town each day too, and have more to explore. 
The Bayou Chicot

Concrete burial vaults about 3 feet into the ground with a cover to keep folks from floating away in a flood 

Hundreds of fundamentalists churches each with their advice

The north campground has handicapped facilities that are nice 

Azaleas shed some in the wind and rain of the past two days

Even dandelions are welcome

Headed to a bird watcher's walk Saturday 9 am.  Haven't seen any strange birds here in the park. Robins, sparrows, an owl, crows. blackbirds, cardinals, etc. 

Spanish moss and Resurrection Ferns add some decadence to the park 

The states down here only require back license plates, so the front ones are for personal statements.
Spring violets -- only about 3 months ahead of Wisconsin

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Walk Around Lake Chicot North Campgrounds LA Feb 7 2017

A refreshing early morning thundershower let up and so I took a stroll around the campgrounds in Lake Chicot State Park -- North site.  Since we have recently left the snow and ice of MN and WI  what interests me is the signs of spring here.  
 A photo tour:  

The camping unit -- 2011 Impala bought in AR and 1990 Jayco

An early bird trying to get the worms brought up by the rain

Jasmine vines, with evergreen leaves, climb through the smaller trees and are in bloom here and there around the park. 

Resurrection ferns and Spanish moss take advantage of the trees and humidity.  

Azaleas here and there about the park.  I think they are planted as they appear along the drives rather than in the woods. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

New Car -- Continuing on South

We spent a week in Lake Village, AR at Lake Chicot State Park -- a nice park that was nearly empty except for us.  A little too cool -- some nights around 32 and although many sunny days reached 60, not quite as warm as we (Margo) wanted.   We would have moved on earlier, but as we reached Lake Village, Tuesday evening, January 27th, the front brakes on the 1991 Cutlass Ciera Oldsmobile began grinding badly.  
  We stopped at a couple of repair shops, who looked at the rusty undercarriage and said they couldn't, wouldn't or shouldn't fix the brakes.  We knew that in WI or MN we could get them fixed, but here rusty means work, and without experience they were unwilling to try. 
   So we shopped cars, first settling on a 2007 Pontiac Torrent -- very nice suv, 100k miles and only $5,000.  However it had been sitting in the dealer lot, and when he went to take it out for a spin, the electric assist power steering didn't work.  A week of tinkering and diagnosing it (things go like molasses in the winter here), finally found it was bad and he had to fix it and add another $1000 to the price -- and a few weeks more time (he planned to get a junk yard part).   
   So some more looking around and we settled on a 2011 Impala with 119K miles for $5800.  Very clean, absolutely no rust.  The same dealer (the only one in Lake Village where we were stuck) bought two of them from a Federal Govt auction (local prison) where they had been used by prison officials. 
   We got rid of the Olds in the deal ($200 off the price which started at $7k and ended at $5800).   I bought and installed a trailer hitch and so on Saturday, Feb 4th we hooked up the camper and drove 300 or so miles south to Chicot State Park in LA (yes they have the same name).   The Impala pulled very nicely, trailer hardly noticeable behind.  
   We had planned on staying in LA for a few weeks where the highs are 70s and lows 50s.  Actually a little too warm for comfort with sudden change.  LA is one of those cut taxes on the rich and business states that Bobby Jindal starting in 2008, and with his next 8 years of very much lower state income (no cutting taxes did not bring in more revenue), park, schools, roads etc., have all been drastically underfunded and show it drastically too.  
  We had been here in 2009, and it appears that nothing has been done since in the park except to sweep the bathrooms (but not really clean them).  Weekly garbage pickup, prisoners used to do what cleaning that is done (at least in some of the parks), and pretty shabby overall.   It was full with fishermen and others on Saturday, but as they left Sunday, today we drove around the campsites in the 6000+ acre park and found a "better" place with bathrooms that were under construction when we were here in 2009, and so are still decent, although in need of some TLC.  
   Plan to stay here until next Monday, and then move on.  Every day we update what we are doing with photos on Facebook, so if you are interested in following us visually, get one of those free Facebook accounts and follow us.
Internet service is somewhat abbreviated (meaning slow and very much restricted -- so photos and videos are not easily seen), but text and mail is OK.  
  Some photos from AR and LA -- very highly compressed to make it so we can upload them. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

73F and Sunny

Monday was another day in Chicot State Park in SE Arkansas.  73F after 40F overnight.  Not windy today so much nicer that the past few days.   We are getting comfortable with the camper, the camp and everything except the car.   The 1991 Olds got this far and started having brake trouble with the front brakes.  The local shops won't fix it -- too rusted out they say, although it is not that bad for WI and MN, it is fatal here.    So we started looking for a replacement -- an older rust-free vehicle from down here that will pull a trailer.   We found one we liked, priced OK, but the dealer said he had to get the power steering (electrical) fixed.    

Now about a week later, it finally got taken to the GM dealer who may anyday now take a look at it.   The deep south runs on its own schedule -- which is like molasses running on a cold day.     Today we looked at other vehicles, but nothing seemed quite right, and then as we were just getting into Greenville MS, where there were many used car dealers, the front brakes gave out totally.  Instead of just groaning and scraping, they quit working and the light came on.  Added some fluid and it appears to leak back out again soon.  The back brakes do work and stop the car OK, but it feels unsafe, and it surely is not a good thing to drive it much -- even to look for a replacement.    

So we signed up for 2 more days at Chicot -- sunny and warm through Wednesday, and plan to annoy the dealer a little more about getting the steering repaired.   He offered us a Blazer -- 2001, 200,000 miles, decent condition, 4-wheel drive,  no rust, trailer hitch, and sound mechanically for $2500.  However, the a/c works fine, but not the heater!   Seems not to be a problem here.  He also offered a one-owner 2000 4-wheel drive Pickup Truck with a v-8, new tires, very decent mechanically and nice inside for $5000.  Not really what we want either.  

Another dealer had a Ford Fusion 2011, 150k miles, nice looking, and sound for $5000.  Salvage title though.   The local used car dealers go to auctions in central AR and buy cars, touch them up and resell them.   We would like to get something we like rather than just something to get us from point A to point B, but not spend a lot.   An interesting and maybe impossible quest, but as we still have back brakes, it goes on until the windmill falls over or we get caught in the blades.    The internet here is so slow I can't even format this post.  

No new paragraphs, nothing but raw text!   Takes me back to the days when I had a dial up modem and connection.  Need to drive over to the McDonalds to get decent WIFI.  


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Minnesota through Arkansas Days 1-7 on the Road

We left Wisconsin Sunday afternoon, January 22, headed out on the 2017 Road Trip to Louisiana.  Cold, snow, and winter -- unbroken until March maple syrup season seemed too long to endure.  
So we hooked up the 91 Olds (the only car with a trailer hitch) and the 1990 Jayco pop-up tent camper, all loaded with tools, camping, sleeping stuff and headed south to Pine Island MN for the first leg of the trip.  

"If the Olds works OK to Pine Island, we will take it south," I told Margo, "but if we get there and it has trouble, we will buy one of those rust free 10 year old cars down there to replace it."  

  Here is the daily log from my Facebook pages:

Just at freezing and a small coating of white frosty snow at the Pine Island MN house as we get ready to drive to Branson MO today. Listening on the radio to the Packers lose yesterday as drove from the Farm here (120 miles) we tested out the combination of the 91 Olds and 90 Jayco camper. Seemed to pull fine even at 65mph on Hwy 52. Nothing to make us nervous about continuing. 
So we are preparing for a few weeks away. 
Many Amish in southern IA and northern MO.  The snow disappeared by mid Iowa.  

The first open ponds are always exciting -- Missouri

There is just enough snowy frost on the car and driveway to hint of slick morning driving, so will stick to the main roads and go slow. 
Did find out that the cigarette lighter socket was dead, so couldn't plug in the gps -- but our first route is just drive to Hwy 35 and take it to Branson. 
Branson is supposed to be 53F for a high today and the forecast south after that is a week of sunny days and 60s if we go another day's travel south.
Checked in at the almost newly remodeled Budget Inn on the south side of Sedalia, MO for the night. Nice room, fresh everything, but no chairs and no bedside lamp and no clothes hangers. Very slow wi-fi. 
Budget Inn $66 OK

Sedalia is just about 600 south of the Farm. We drove 118 miles Sunday to Pine Island, MN and started at 7:30 this morning headed for Branson. However about 5:30pm as it got dark, we pulled into this motel (which we stayed in many years ago under the name of Starlight). $66 total for the night. Adequate. 
We took Hwy 14 to I35 and then through Des Moines IA and switched to 2-lane Hwy 65 (a nice peaceful and decent road through IA and MO as far as we have traveled. 
No snow on the ground after Ames, Iowa and open ponds by 100 miles into MO with about 41F and sunny by late afternoon--felt very nice. 
On the way here, as we crossed from IA into MO, the right front brake was noticeably noisy when we went very slowly through an old downtown street--noise went away if I stepped lightly on the brake pedal. Not a problem, I figured as we cruised on down Hwy 65 for another 40 miles, and then a sudden wrenching sound and continuous rumbling. "Flat tire" I wondered although it rode OK. Pulling over as soon as I found a shoulder on top of a hill checked everything and no flats or obvious problems. The brake had gotten sort of spongy too as it noise started, so I figured something in the brake broke (i.e. pad came loose or something). 
Drove slowly (30 mph) along about a mile headed for the next town a few miles ahead with the throbbing/grinding noise and suddenly a clunk, a piece of the car flew out the back, and the noise quit totally and all sounded fine. I didn't try to turn the rig around to find out what came out--but it was about the size of a bratworst I thought. 
Anyway, the brakes worked mostly, but grinding and pulsing that seemed to be coming from the front right. 
We drove on a few more hours, ignoring it as we still had decent brakes (not perfect, but adequate). My guess is a brake pad broke loose or something on the caliper broke -- so the front right brake is mostly not working, but not really bothering. If we make another day OK, and setup camp somewhere, I will pull off the wheel and see what is wrong -- and likely take it in somewhere for a front brake job. 
We got about 18 miles per gallon pulling the camper, vs about 28 we get without it--running about 60-65 mph. 
A decent day all in all!

Very nice at 70F, but a little cool at 32F even with the windows zipped, the heater on.  

Chicot State Park along the Mississippi River backwaters

70F this afternoon as we cruised into Lake Village and parked the camper at Chicot State park, sort of the SE corner of AR, across the Mississippi from Greenville, MS, and just north of Louisiana. 
Decided to stay here a couple of days as it started feeling to hot for us (and we found the car air conditioner doesn't work this year). Supposed to be sunny for a full week, with 50s-60s and lows in the 30s, so that seems about right. 
The brake is grinding on the Olds, so visited Lake Village to find a repair shop. Stopped at a Truck repair place and asked Melvin, a mechanic about my age, where I could take the car to get front brake work. 
We do that too, over at our auto shop, Wayne Edwards Parts and services. Then we started talking about a 91 Olds from MN and what the part that flew out the back might be. A brake pad? or ? And then about MN salt, rust and those kind of problems. 
The folks here in the south are always perturbed by older Northern cars, as they get to work on mostly rust-free cars down here. Anyway, at 9 am, I drive it into the shop and Melvin (a black man about my age or maybe less) will see what flew off, and whether or not what is left is easily fixed. He was wearing a spiffy blue uniform with the Wayne Edwards Logo and his name, Melvin. He thought Russ Hanson was a good MN name. 
Melvin liked to talk, and so I learned he came from W Virginia, where salt is used too, but nothing like MN and WI! 
Inoperable Rust

A 2007 Torrent with 100k miles for $5000?

Or a lower priced model?

We drove over to the main repair shop and told the lady behind the desk we were sent over by Melvin to set up a 9 am front brake check/repair appointment. "Well, if Mel sent you over, we better do it," drawled the pleasant lady behind the desk. Everyone in the shop and most of the folks in town are black. The town is on Hwy 65, the route we took from Des Moine IA south. Today we turned over 1000 miles! 
Pecan trees, pines, cypress, bayous, holly, magnolias, pansies cotton fields, and along the Mississippi miles of flat, flat, very flat wet fields. A neighbor here is fishing for white perch -- no luck tonight.

Well, Melvin took a look at the rusty bottom and sort of threw up his hands. "My impact wrench wouldn't even remove the nuts holding the wheel on. And the bolts holding the caliper, which looks bad and should be replaced, is likely to break off when I try to take it out." 
I know up north the mechanics are used to this stuff, and I even have my own 3/4 heavy duty socket wrench with the 3-foot pipe extension to take off the nuts (and had done that on the two passenger side wheels just before we left).
Part of the trip south was keeping in mind that we might want to try to find a rust-free older vehicle here to bring back. 
"I could spend a day or more and a $1000 if nothing breaks and I can get the parts, but if it breaks then even more work" commented Mel, obviously not looking forward to a day of rusty work.
Then Wayne Edwards, the owner of the shop came over, a fellow about my size and shape agreed, "questionable whether you want fix it up."
"So do you have something for sale that would pull a 1000lb load trailer?" I asked. 
"Two 2011 Impala's from the state prison with 100,000 miles and good shape and a nice 2007 Pontiac Torrent with 100,000 miles." 
He showed me the Torrent (the others were at a different location). Absolutely rust free, very clean, smooth running, but the electric steering had just stopped working. "I have to take it to the GM dealer in town and get the computer code read out so we know what is wrong before I can sell it. Price is $4995 and in very good condition! Adding a trailer hitch is about $300. I will know more about the steering tomorrow -- maybe just a fuse or something"
"I will bring Margo over tomorrow afternoon and we will check it out then, and if she likes it, and you can take the 91 Olds in trade for decent amount, we probably are interested." 
"No trade in!!!!!!!," he replied, "but the junk dealer is across the road."
It is amazing when you look under a 10 year old car from AR, and don't see any rust. interior is immaculate, and so we will stay here at the park into next week and see what develops. The alternate plans are -- do nothing and keep driving the Olds; get rid of the Olds and rent a vehicle; or move to Lake Village AR and take the bus.
I gave Wayne and Melvin each a bottle of maple syrup from Wisconsin in return for the physical exam that resulted in one of those "just sew 'em back up--cancer has spread too much and nothing we can do." Back in MN, where the Mayo Clinic of car mechanics work, a different prognosis and treatment would be likely.
Tulip tree ready to bloom


Paid for campsite through the weekend as we consider the automobile dilemma. Margo looked over the Torrent and thought it was OK, so tomorrow we visit Wayne and see if we can reach a deal with trailer hitch added. Otherwise we did look at other cars today too--photo of one here. 
A nice day with some blooms here and there to view.

Worrying tonight about the 91 Olds disposal if we buy a different car. The title is still in MN and we are down here, so can't sell it and pass on the title--even need that for junking it I think. 
So right now the plan is to buy a hammer and chisel, then chisel of the VIN (identification numbers), wipe it clean for fingerprints, and drive it into the Mississippi at one of the scenic overlooks like they do on those TV cop shows with the accelerator stuck down. 
Or maybe one one of the back roads where hillbillies live in AR and there are already 100 old cars in the woods. Just stick a Confederate flag on it first and let it return to nature.
Cones for Sweet Gum tree

Pecan harvesting (picking up from the ground by hand) underway

32F, sunny, calm and no snow here in Chicot State Park on the edge of the Mississippi River. Big vees of various colored noisily honking high flying birds, robins, blackbirds, a cardinal, squirrels and the usual assortment of squawking, pecking, hooting, and other rackety birds wake us early. 
The land around here is absolutely flat and likely to give you wet feet if you stray off the roads and paths. The only hill is the big levee just out of the park to keep the wet side wet and the dry side dry should the Missippissippissipi get some runoff from Wisconsin and MN. 
No farming underway as the soil is drenched from rains last week. 
Today is car shopping for us. We plan to try a few local spots looking for that ideal vehicle -- under 100,000 miles, absolutely no rust or damage, mechanically sound, trailer hitchable (most don't have them unless they are pickups or SUV's--so must be able to add one), excellent gas mileage, no more than 10 years old, and in the $3k - 6k range. Something we can immediately hook on to the camper and go another 300 miles south next week where instead of 32F overnight with 50F in the camper, it will be 42F overnight and 60F in the camper in the early morning. 
Maybe still buy the Torrent, but we need to study some more after I spent the evening checking out the Torrent complaints online -- excellent vehicle if the computer and sensors would ever let it run for a while without turning things off or scaring the driver with warning messages-- mostly in something called "Stabiltrak" lights coming on for things like not putting the groceries in the exact center of the back seat. Also as the 2007 one has a steering failure right now (the electric motor assist) have to see if it is fixed. Read up on that too--and not a big complaint as it is a replaceable unit. 
Anyway, shopping for cars is on the agenda. It is very much like dating, or maybe electing a president, you take in a few impressions, facts and with a car and date --a trial run, and then make a decision that for most people,
lasts a long time. It is easy to make a bad decision because the saleperson is out to sell to folks who live far away and can't come back to complain. You have to be careful of those salespeople who say 100,000 miles and when you actually look at the gauge it is 200,000 miles -- some folks seem unable to tell the truth ever. 
At the moment, I am hopeful that my very great need for change doesn't push me into a decision I regret. However, unlike electing a president, I don't have to wait 4 years to make a change. Over the 55 years I have had a car or truck, I have really only bought about half a dozen starting with my 1937 Chev Truck at age 14, so this is still a stressful time for me. It is why I am still married to my first wife--too stressful to think about change.

Not much luck at car shopping today-- too expensive, too old, too worn out, etc. Wayne didn't have the steering fixed on the Torrent -- "looks like the computer has to be re-programmed, and the earliest I can get it in to the GM dealer is next Monday morning. I got it after it had been vandalized -- one side had the lights broken the windows broken and scratched--not an accident, but a vandal. So it has new lights, windows, etc., on the passenger side and a new paint job there. Nothing structural. Anyway, when we had it in the body shop, I left it with the door open and the battery went dead and then the power steering electric motor quit." He called the GM dealer in the next town 22 miles away -- who told him to bring it up and they would try to "reprogram it." I wonder if it was previously used by a cult of Southern Trumpist Baptists and needs to be de-programmed rather than re-programmed so I can drive it. 
The Impala's Wayne had for sale are federal prison cars --2011 Impala's bought at an auction, but a few thousand more--and cars rather than the sort of suv-ish Torrent and messy to add a trailer hitch--looks like I would have to hack-saw some of the plastic bumper away. 
Spent some time looking online at adding a trailer hitch -- extremely simple for the Torrent--a plug in for the wiring and with the right hitch -- bolt holes already threaded and a snap out plastic bumper insert. Probably an hour to put it on myself and the hitch costs about $125 but takes a couple of days to order. 
So Monday at 1 pm, we can stop in and see if it is still for sale and we decide to buy it, or if we just hook up the Olds and camper and head to our next stop in Ville Platte, LA 300 miles south. 
The Olds runs smoothly until you want to stop and then grinds and crunches to a stop. My strategy is pulling it into low (automatic transmission) as I ease up to a stop sign so I don't scare all the folks nearby as the brakes moan to a stop. Driving it back home via the Freeway wouldn't be much of a problem as only about 3 stops per day. The brakes do work, but metal on metal is surely not likely to last very long. 
Friday was laundry day; food shopping day; and car shopping day. The first two went fine.

33F, clear, calm and an expected high of 54F today with tomorrow expected to be 60F at Chicot State Park on the backwaters of the Mississippi River in the nearly deep south. 
Many trees, bushes and plants with green shiny leaves all winter here including giant Magnolias, LIve Oaks (I think), Holly, Camelias (beginning to bloom) and others, especially right along the lake shore where the never-freezing ox-bow lake moderates the climate a little. We appear to be out of the floodable area thanks to the high levee between us and the River. 
Today, I think we will venture the 25 miles to Greenville MS where Riverboat Gambling is actually on a Riverboat, and there is a bigger town to look for a used car. If you imagine walking into the casino at Danbury WI across a large wide gangplank, and then once inside see the same thing only with a slight nautical look, you will get the idea. We were there in 2010 and did well other than the mortgage we had to place on our MN house when Margo put it all on Red. 
In the evening we headed to the laundromat here in Lake Village. Now you have to know about the small city here. It has moved almost 100% from the old rather quaint downtown to a strip along Hwy 65. The few blocks of big old brick stores downtown are virtually all empty on both sides of mainstreet which ends at the lake, a park and a tall statue of some Confederate general. Down here the losing side put up endless amounts of statues to remind folks that they fought for what was right, and don't forget it -- slavery, racism and later Jim Crow laws, only now replaced by Trump/Pence signs here and there while the population is at least half black, and very friendly, helpful black folks at that.
"1861-1865 CSA 
The signs of poverty are prevalent in the whole town from small old decaying lived in houses to boarded up buildings. However along Hwy 65 we see the McDonalds and the stripmall mentality that has completely killed the old downtown.

A Visit to the Laundromat
Having gone through the week's set of clothes we brought along, it was time to hit the laundromat. The park has a nice laundromat building but it is shut down for winter when the only visitors they get are weekend fishermen and boaters and a few straggling northerners who think 30 - 60s are paradise. 
The Laundromat is behind the very nice US Postoffice, in an old freshly painted large red brick building. Very nice looking until we get inside where 3 black bachelor's are washing and drying clothes--one young man (20s), one about 45 and one as old as me, waiting on the dryers to finish. It is 5:00 pm. 
The inside is old, dingy, with rows of washers and dryers that one is uncertain whether the machines will work or not. Using the laundromat strategy of opening each machine and checking if it feels warm (same for the dryers) from a recent batch is the best way to know if it works. We loaded two and set on the bench along the wall and listened to the two older men talk in a very southern accent. 
Having worked with all sorts of accents and people from all around the world while at Mayo Clinic, I am much better at understanding folks than Margo. 
The two men were talking about the younger man's work on the tows pulling barges up and down the Mississippi river, something he had done for years, but now appeared to have moved on. Being curious about the life and job, I asked "We're from MN, near St Paul. Have you ever gone that far north?" 
"Yes, been everywhere on the River including some of the side routes -- into Chicago, on the Arkansas and other routes. Got a nieces that lives in Hennipen -- way too cold up there!' The accent was heavy! 
Anyway the two talked about river boat work until the younger man's clothes were all hung and neatly folded. "Like these flannel lined work pants," he commented which started a thread of flannel shirts and how to get a decent one. 
Then the younger man left and the older man asked "what brings you here?" and I gave my story of the broken brakes and looking for a new car, and he gave me some advice -- and was unbelieving of an undercarriage that was so rusty it the car shop wouldn't do a brake job. 
"My 87 Ford truck is still fixable," he said as I took him out to see the 91 Olds. His truck didn't have any rust on the body and looked quite nice underneath. 
"When you headed back?" he asked. 
"In March to make maple syrup." And as he didn't know what that was, I explained it and gave him a bottle to take home from the case we brought along to sweeten up the neighbors and auto repair folks we meet along the way. 
Friendly folks, who live in an area where good jobs are scarce, and people are used to doing without.

Beautiful sunny morning; birds are tweeting, boaters on the Lake and Margo is up about. Have been worrying about her back, sleeping in the camper and whether or not she will have problems. She won't admit to anything wrong so I count the pain pills in the bottle each evening to see if they are going down faster than usual. She is not complaining, seems to be enjoying things, although maybe a touch of hypothermia when the mornings are 32F outside and 45F inside. This trip was an experiment to see if we could still do the old style roughing it camping we were used to or if we needed to upgrade to a hard shell RV with furnace, bathroom, and amenities.
Here we use the very nice bathroom and shower facility -- and with only one other camper in the park, no crowds. The other camper is one of those big pull behind ones that are more comfortable than your own home. 
We use an electric blanket and an electric space heater to keep the cold at bay -- although with single layer thin canvas walls heating the inside is not very successful in the mornings before the sun comes in. 
We got down here and realized we didn't have the step up into the camper. Trying to find one with a railing to make it easier than to take a run and jump in or hop out. 
The car parts places in town said "you need to go to an RV dealer" and point out they are an hour or more away, and we are limiting our travels right now. So I think a camper spare tire might work for the step for now. Probably should try to remove the rustly bolts holding it on today anyway.

With a beautiful Saturday morning, and deciding to actually stay at the park and enjoy the weather today, I decided it was time to really inspect the brakes close up. 
Melvin had complained he couldn't get the wheel lug nuts off with his air impact wrench, so I took off the right front wheel with my penetrating oil, 3/4 Craftsman socket with the 3-foot pipe extension. 
Came off easily. However I forgot my maul and couldn't budge the wheel to come loose from the hub. So left the lug nuts a little loose and told Margo to go out and drive around awhile making lots of turns (but not using the brakes) to see if the hub might break loose from driving it while I jacked up the camper and loosened the wheels nuts on it--just in case of a flat tire there. 
She balked -- no spirit of adventure, I guess. Having closely inspected the undercarriage, I made a firm decision not to drive it back home, not to get it fixed, but just rid ourselves of the car Aunt Lou (God rest her soul) bought cheaply almost new in 1992 because it was returned under the WI Lemon Law and the dealer was mostly unable to get the computer to behave consistently.
We bought it from her the summer of 2009 when she passed away and Margo was staying with her to help out -- Lou couldn't drive anymore and wanted to reward Margo. The Olds then was 18 years old and had 50,000 miles. Margo paid $500 for it and it gave us 7 years of a great ride and good service (after I replaced the computer with a newer version). It likely would continue doing well except for the need for a whole undercarriage transplant.
So, the plan is to push Wayne into getting the Torrent steering fixed (just the computer he says). We studied it some more close up and it is really clean and nice inside, outside and underneath and runs wonderfully except for steering like the M Farmall. Great tires, great ride, and the brakes work fine). Monday at 1 pm, we will find out what the GM dealer says -- a computer re-program is what the over-the-phone dealer diagnosis was after an hour of readouts and phone and tester device readouts. Not really a good sign when the computer runs amuck!!! 
The main problem down here is that southern Arkansas runs on a different schedule, sort of laid back with nothing much in a hurry. We have been here only a few days, and haven't accommodated ourselves yet -- between the stress of car problems that I completely cover up not to worry Margo, and our intentions to go a little more south, and the unwinding from the Farm schedule of everyday up at 5:30 to milk the cows and clean the barns and work on the buildings to a real retired folks schedule, it is our problem more than Wayne's. 
I reassembled the car and came in to get the computer and go back out and sip a mint julep under the shady Magnolia tree here on the banks of the Old Mississippi, while the penetrating oil does its job and before I swim across the bayou to borrow a maul from the cotton farmer working on his giant land leveler machine across the way.